11 Key Details Examples You’ll Actually Want To Teach
The Classroom

11 Key Details Examples You’ll Actually Want To Teach

Tara Shanley
Apr 25, 2024

Finding key details in a text is one of the trickier literacy skills for students to master, especially when they’re just starting to learn to read and make sense of texts. They may pick up on how to find the main idea more quickly, but they can’t explain how they know. Or they might not be able to find the main idea because they don’t understand how to discern key details from less important ones 

To make it easier for you to teach this skill, we’ve created a list of content that includes key details examples that you can bring into your lessons and help your students understand why this skill matters and how they can use it independently.

11 examples of key details in relevant, real-world content

You can use these articles and text sets from Newsela ELA to help your students understand how to find key details in a piece of content and model how to identify them during classroom lessons:

1. Comparisons

Comparisons are key details that show how one person, place, thing, idea, or situation is the same as another. 

The article "Confirmed: New phases of matter is solid and liquid at the same time" helps illustrate what a comparison key detail looks like. In the article, scientists show how groups of potassium atoms compare to other elements. They have properties that reflect both solid and liquid states. You can find this article in our Chemistry text set.

2. Contrasts

Contrasts are key details that show how one person, place, thing, idea, or situation is different than another.

The article "Should college athletes play for free?" shows students what a contrast key detail looks like. The author compares two situations, whether or not to pay college athletes for participating in school sports. Those discussing the issue say paying athletes will nullify the amateur status of college sports.

That’s in contrast to the idea that athletes think that if they put in the work, it’s fair to receive compensation from organizations using their names and likenesses on television, in program marketing, and for merchandise generated from playing for a school team. You can find this article in our Pro/Con text set.

3. Statistics

Statistics are numerical key details, usually shown in percentages or ratios, but not always.

The article "Baseball players pick up a batplus a pencil" shows students what a statistics key detail looks like within a text. The numerical data shows that at least one baseball player can hit the ball at 120 miles per hour, something we wouldn’t know without metrics or technology. You can find this article in our text set called The Sports Section.

4. Results

Results are numerical or non-numerical key details that show the outcomes of a test or experiment.

The article "It's no fable: Experiments reveal raccoons' intelligence" shows students what results key details look like. The author explains how scientists wanted to know if raccoons could understand cause and effect. They then go through the steps of the experiment to show that the scientists modeled a behavior and the raccoons replicated it to get the desired outcome, showing they did have some knowledge of cause and effect. Find this text set in our novel study “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White.

5. Impact

Impact is a key detail that shows the effects of results on a particular person, place, thing, or situation.

The article "Big cats that once roamed the world have less space to call home" gives an example of impact key details. It shows how the results of things like human migration, poaching, and global warming have affected the West African lion population. For example, farmers are moving onto lands traditionally known as lion ranges, decreasing the areas where they can live and grow. Find this article in our Articles About Nature text set.

6. Graphs

Graphs are visual key details that show the relationships among different data sets.

The article "The U.S. national debt from 1929 to 1950" is an example of how graphs and other visuals can serve as key details. When used with other content that provides background knowledge about World War II, students can use the graph to see what the GNP was before the war and how it spiked during the years the war was happening. Find this article in our US History text set.

7. Quotations

Quotations are key details that give word-for-word accounts from an authority or an eyewitness.

This article "Get a rare peek into the life of reclusive writer J.D. Salinger" has an example of a quote key detail. The article discusses how J.D. Salinger led a private personal life and how the New York Public Library wanted to create an exhibit for his 100th birthday. It quotes his son Matt, who we can consider an authority on his father, who said Salinger would not want the attention of the exhibit if he were alive. Find this article in our Celebrating Jewish American Authors text set.

8. Sensory descriptors

Sensory descriptors are key details that describe how to experience a thing or situation with one or more of the five senses.

The article "Sensational: How different are animals senses?" gives an example of sensory key details. It tells us how dogs smell out of each nostril, and how this special skill helps them easily pinpoint the direction of a smell, which is harder for humans. Use the Understanding Text Structure (Compare & Contrast) text set to access this article.

9. Examples

Examples are key details that share real-world items or situations that illustrate the main idea. This entire article is an example of example key details (say that five times fast!). 

The article "Understanding percentages when shopping and in life" shows how example key details work. Especially when covering math topics, it’s helpful to anchor key details and concepts to the main idea with real-world examples. In this case, when trying to describe how percentages and money work together, the author chose to show how to calculate the change in price using a fictional situation based on one that could happen in real life. Get this article in our Thematic Connection: Making Money text set.

10. Anecdotes

Anecdotes are short story or explanation key details about people, places, things, ideas, or situations.

The article "Native Americans take control of their story" gives an example of an anecdotal key detail. It paraphrases a story from Sneve’s childhood and gives background on why she’s passionate about Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT) cause, and her authority to speak on the issue. Find this article in our novel study “There There” by Tommy Orange.

11. Definitions

Definition key details are short explanations that tell what a word means. They may include synonyms to help provide more meaning and context about the unknown word.

The article "A TikTok star's Ramadan recipes helped launch him to 'Chopped' fame" gives an example of a definition key detail that’s part of the Newsela experience thanks to our Power Words and AI-powered subject-specific vocabulary. Explaining what the word “viral” means in this context helps support the point that social media and TikTok are helping Alzahabi share his recipes with many people across the globe. Read this article in our Informational Texts with Power Words text set.

7 ways to help students practice finding key details

Showing examples in class is a great way to give students concrete ideas of what key details look like in a text or an image. But the skill-and-drill approach of showing them examples over and over isn’t enough to make the skill stick. Moreover, this type of repetition may not be successful enough to help them transition to finding key details independently.

Here are some methods you can combine with the examples we’ve shared to help students draw connections between why finding the key details in a text matters and how they can start recognizing them when they read, even outside of class:

1. Modeling

When you’re showing key details examples in class, you’re already doing modeling. But this technique goes deeper than just putting examples on the board and expecting students to memorize them. Modeling allows you to guide students to find key details in a text with strategies like think-alouds to help students understand the thinking behind searching a text. You can also use modeling in a guided reading setting to work with smaller groups of students to provide more individualized attention and scaffolds when practicing this skill.

2. Anchor charts

Anchor charts are visuals that illustrate lesson thoughts, ideas, and processes in one place. You may make one before your key details lesson and hang it in the classroom for reference. Or you can create the anchor chart as part of a whole-class lesson and hang it in the room for future reteaching and practice lessons. When creating your chart, you can choose to make a general chart that explains what key details are and how to find them or make a chart using a specific text as the model.

3. Recipe analogy

Give students another way to think about the main idea and key details by using a recipe analogy. When you make a recipe, you use individual ingredients. If you’re baking an apple pie, for example, you use things like apple slices, sugar, and water. All the individual ingredients come together to make the finished pie. In this analogy, the pie is your main idea and the ingredients are the key details.

4. T-charts

There are plenty of ways to use graphic organizers to teach literacy skills, and teaching about key details is no different. Use T-charts to record the main idea and key details for longer works, like for each chapter in a chapter book. Then students can use the charts for each chapter to discuss how the chapters support the main idea of the entire book.

Download your printable: Newsela’s T-chart worksheet

5. Flipbooks

Flipbooks consist of multiple pieces of paper with the shortest piece on top and the longest one on the bottom of the stack. They’re often stapled or glued together in a way that lets you see the bottom of each longer page sticking out from underneath the page above it. Flipbooks help show students visually how to find and record key details.

On the front, shortest page, students can write the name of the text. The inside pages contain key details about the text, one for each detail. At a minimum, there should be room for two details, but you can include more depending on the grade level and type of texts students are analyzing. The last, longest page of the book is where they can record the main idea of the text. The structure works because it shows students how the details “lead up” to the main idea.

6. “I Spy” games

Similar to the “I Spy” picture books students love, playing “I Spy” memorization games in class can help students learn how to focus on and remember details. To play a version of this game, create a tray of different kinds of items or project an image with a variety of things to look at on a screen for the whole class to see. Instruct students to study the image and remember as much as they can about it before the one-minute timer goes off.

When the minute is up, cover the tray or stop sharing the image. Then ask the students questions about details like, “What color shirt was the baby wearing,” or “How many petals did the flower have?” Ask students to record their answers on paper and reveal the correct answers at the end of the exercise. This activity can help students see the importance of looking for details while reading.

7. Matching activities

Take main ideas and key details outside of a traditional text and create matching activities for your students. You can create them with tangible manipulatives, like slips of paper, or make the activity digital with online tools like Formative by Newsela

Display the main idea somewhere that all students can see it. You should also display between three and five “key details” for students to review. At least one of them shouldn’t be an actual key detail that matches the main idea, but rather an extraneous detail. With this exercise, ask students to pick the best key details that most support the main idea. You can do this as a whole class, small group, or individual activity. No matter which delivery method you choose, come together as a whole class at the end and discuss why certain details qualify as key details and why others don’t.

Teaching key details with Newsela

With Newsela ELA, it’s easy to provide examples of key details for content-rich instruction with relevant, real-world examples that match your lessons. Plus, it’s easy to check students’ comprehension to discover if they’re learning and can use this skill independently. The standards and skill-aligned multiple-choice quizzes on all authentic texts make it easier for you to get the data you need to adjust your lessons in real time when teaching a skill. Plus, research shows that students who read and take quizzes on Newsela ELA twice per week can see about three additional months of literacy skill growth.

And coming for back to school ‘24, you can also encourage close reading with new checks for understanding embedded throughout all informational texts. This AI-generated feature embeds four checks for understanding questions throughout a text to get students to slow down and ensure they understand what they read before moving on. This feature helps students focus on key details and think critically about the content they’re reading.

Want access to these and other great features? Sign up for your free Newsela Lite account and get access to the content and skill-building scaffolds you need to teach students how to identify key details. Plus, as a Newsela Lite subscriber, you can request a free trial of our premium products to take your lessons and skills practice even further.

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